Has the mainland turned the tables in the car market? Ignoring the global race to serve its own thriving domestic market, its state-owned companies are now fending off one another and international competitors to buy a South Korean carmaker. It might seem that China has gone car crazy, yet the answer to this apparently contradictory policy might be its unrequited quest for a domestic flagship car manufacturer it can call its own. What China does not need is overinvestment by a rabble of own-brand upstarts, but to develop a car manufacturer that can stand the test of time as its market matures. Nevertheless, China's largest maker of industrial detergents buying South Korea's fourth-largest car manufacturer was always going to raise a few eyebrows. Even more so when losing bidder Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp subsequently cries foul - saying it, and not National Blue Star Group, was anointed by Beijing to snap up this prime piece of Korean technology. What seems to be forgotten in the ensuing confusion, is that while the central government can control the buyer - due to its capital account controls - it cannot control the choice of the seller. That came down to the deliberations of Chohung Bank and 27 other creditors who own 55 per cent of Ssangyong after an earlier debt-equity swap rescue in the bankrupt carmaker. And Blue Star trumped not just China's largest domestic car manufacturer, but also the Korean joint ventures of General Motors and Renault. Ironically, the success of Blue Star's bid probably owes more to its lack of prowess in the car industry than any clear synergies on its part. Management can expect much more of a free rein than with a competitor at the wheel. It should also be easier to keep the 5,500 unionised workers of Ssangyong onboard. Some have already downed tools in protest, but with few production facilities of its own, Blue Star is less likely to consider the upheaval needed to swap the notoriously militant Korean worker for more plentiful and compliant mainland ones. So far publicly, Blue Star has also been making the right noises about investing up to US$1 billion in its new acquisition, rather than carting it off back to the motherland as some might expect. But the potential to exploit Ssangyong's brand, technology and expertise in building sports utility vehicles (SUVs) must undoubtedly remain part of its game plan. From a broader Chinese perspective the control gained is what it covets. Unlike the strict 50-50 joint ventures Shanghai Automobile operates under with GM and Volkswagen, Blue Star can get control with its 48.9 per cent stake. If Blue Star does decide to build Ssangyong SUVs or luxury cars in the mainland, it does not need to establish complicated joint ventures. Nor can it be accused of stealing a technology it now owns. When the inevitable shake-up in the mainland's car market does come, it is likely the survivors will be operators with reliable and branded vehicles. While Ssangyong is clearly not a global heavyweight, it holds a respectable 10 per cent of the Korean market. Until recently, its technology was developed under licence from Mercedes-Benz, although it will shortly be introducing a new proprietary engine. Blue Star's strategy may be more long term than meets the eye. Its other businesses include a planned nationwide chain of car repair and tyre centres. Further out, it would be a surprise if these same outlets were not selling some form of Blue Star-built, Ssangyong-branded cars.